Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
Not Really British
One of the most fondly remembered British sports cars of the early 1950s was not really British at all - it was a totally German design underneath. It was a famous Frazer Nash - the Le Mans replica. The most famous Frazer Nashes were built in the 1920s and 1930s by AFN Ltd, owned by Captain Archibald G. Frazer-Nash. But the Aldington Brothers, a trio of British industrialists who also happened to be car enthusiasts, bought out the Captain in the late 1930s.
The Aldingtons discovered BMWs when they were competing with their chain-drive Nashes in Europe. They bought the British rights to use BMW
designs and were just getting the ball rolling when World War 2 started. One of the Aldingtons became a director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company during the war, but as soon as hostilities ceased, the brothers were on their way to Germany to revive plans for importing BMWs to England.
Dr Fritz Fiedler
had the Type 400 Tourer
in production, using a BMW 326-style chassis powered by the 328 engine. But having an engine was only part of the key - the Aldingtons worked hard to get Dr Fritz Fiedler released from prison. Fiedler had designed the engine. In 1947, he was released and went to England where he worked on the Bristol-BMW two-litre engine.
But the Aldingtons still wanted to revive the glories of the marque Frazer-Nash
, so they asked Fiedler to come over to AFN Ltd to design a sports car for them. In only a month, Fiedler had designed a slim, trim, aerodynamic bombshell that drew a crowd at the Earls Court exhibition in 1947.
The First Post-War Frazer-Nash
That first postwar Frazer-Nash was bought by an Italian motorcycle star, who promptly stuffed it into a stone wall in the 1948 Targa Florio
. But only a year later, an Englishman bought the next prototype and finished third overall at the 1949 Le Mans
, averaging 125km/h (78 mph) in the 24-Hour race. It was the first British car home and it revived the spirits of English car enthusiasts. The orders for replicas poured in.
The Le Mans replicas, of which 60 were made in six-years, were stout little beasts, based on a frame made up of four-inch diameter steel tubes with three cross members and three main body hoops. The rear axle was rigid, but sprung by longitudinal torsion bars. Up front, there was the unusual transverse leaf spring, and A-arms. The 279 mm (11 inches) diameter finned aluminium brake drums were 56 mm (2.4 inches) wide and had scoops running to them for more efficiency.
Le Mans Replica Running Gear
The engine was the same as the production BMW in terms of the bore, stroke, overhead valve layout, light alloy head, four-bearing fully counterweighted crank and such, but all the tweaking managed to up it to 89.5 bhp at 5500 rpm. Carburetion consisted of three downdraught Solexes, and the crowning touch of the whole engine was two large external exhausts - very Mercedes SSK-ish. The gearbox was a four-speed, with 2nd, 3rd and 4th fully synchronised. Steering was cat-quick rack and pinion. An alloy fuel tank held 20 gallons, which at 5 km/1 (15 mpg) gave you well over 400 kilometres (250 miles) on a tankful.
The Le Mans replica was a ball to drive. You sat far back from the wheel, arms straight out to throw it into the curves. The car was beautifully balanced and its behavior was entirely predictable. The replica's victory in the Targa Florio
inspired another model, the F-N Grand Sport, which could be bought with horsepower ranging from 97 kW (132 bhp) 112 kW (150 bhp). But the Grand Sport had a full enveloping body and this took some of the rough-and-ready qualities away that made the original torpedo-bodied roadster so appealing.
But the old torpedo body made one last gasp - on the Mark II version, offered in 1952
in a very limited edition - only three, to be exact. At the 1953 Le Mans
Frazer-Nash had a two door hardtop coupe entered, but its body style was undistinguished and rather tame. Ken Wharton could bring the 112 kW (150 bhp) car in no better than 13th. Nevertheless, it became a regular model in 1954, sharing the stand at Earls Court with the Mark II, the Targa Florio Grand Sport and the Sebring, another offshoot of the Mark II with another body resembling a Maserati Sports 2000.
, AFN tied in with Porsche
, selling the German cars in England, and the Fraser-Nashes were pushed to the bottom of the priority list. In 1958
, a prototype based on the BMW 507 V8 was shown (though not produced) and soon the marque Frazer-Nash was forgotten by all but diehard enthusiasts. For them it was a sad parting.